Who knows what will come next (okay Insidious 2) but right now The Conjuring feels like the pinnacle of the current cycle of haunted house horror movies. It can only be downhill from here on in…
In fact what we’ve had of late with all our conjurings, possessions, pacts, insidiousness and activities is precisely what critics of the horror genre had been complaining about a lack of: genuine scares built on atmosphere and tension, rather than blood and guts. Paranormal Activity arguably started the current glut of chillers, while at the same time killing the previous ruler of the horror genre: torture porn.
The Paranormal Activities thrashed the ever weakening Saw sequels at the box office and that was the end of that franchise, and that subgenre. So it’s ironic that the director of the original Saw has made a ghost story better than any of the Paranormal Activity films, while at the same time carrying on in their tradition. The Conjuring ain’t no found footage movie, mind. It is a beautifully shot piece capturing the true horror of early 1970s fashion, with Velcro shirts and frilly blouses being thrown about with wanton abandon when a ghost fighting couple are summoned to investigate a demonic presence at the home of a family in Rhode Island.
Whether the ‘true’ story of a married couple, Ed and Lorraine Warren, traipsing the country dispelling evil demons is actually true or not, the attention to detail gives the film a great authenticity. It is the little things that make this movie. The father of the demon harassed family has a clapped out old Cadillac so rusted it will never move again, although he always thinks he’ll find the time to fix it. There are horribly dated portraits of the five daughters hanging up the stairs and it’s no wonder they’re the first things to be smashed by the ghost. Best of all are the Warrens’ den of possessed artefacts from their previous investigations. I don’t want to know what the samurai armour got up to in the middle of the night, but is the tambourine-clashing monkey a reference to an old Stephen King short? I like to think so. As you’ll probably have seen in the posters, evil artefact No. 1 is Annabelle the possessed china doll. Evil dolls are a complete ghost cliché and yet director James Wan makes it feel like the first time this thing has been put on screen. She’s a wicked creation with her cracked eyeballs and even more cracked smile, but please, don’t get me one for Christmas.
But then that’s the whole thing with The Conjuring, it is a collection of ideas and story points we’ve all heard or seen before, but done with such style and confidence that it almost feels fresh. I say almost. I have pretty much lost track of the amount of films I’ve seen of late where a daughter or son or mother have been slammed into a room, with everyone else trying to open the door which is held shut by an unseen force. Let’s move on now okay?
This is a minor complaint however. All the actors play the film completely straight (okay maybe not the policeman, but there’s nothing wrong with a comedy copper), with Patrick Wilson and especially Vera Farmiga leading the proceedings with total conviction as my old man would say (from beyond the grave. Sorry that’s a joke, don’t die dad, this is just a horror blog). Plus there’s Lily Taylor who couldn’t be bad in a film if you hung her upside down in a bag of bad apples with “rotten” written on the front.
So The Conjuring, totally worth it. It’s over two hours but flies by, helped no end by its structure which keeps the momentum up to the all singing, all dancing seventies-pant-swinging finale. That’s a lie, that doesn’t happen.